No, I am not saying that I am an historical figure. I was born at a particular time and place and, as Michael Crichton says in his book Timeline, the most significant impact on how you live your life, is the past; when you are born and of course where.
I can’t fathom 13.8 billion years which is the age of the universe. However, I have learned that modern humans, with language and tools, evolved around 70,000 years in what is called the cognitive revolution. The agricultural revolution started only about 12000 years ago and the scientific revolution only 500 years ago. Read Sapiens to get the full story.
Prior to 70.000 years ago, there were other human species as well as homo sapiens, which is our species of hominids. In March 2016, studies were published that suggest that modern humans bred with hominids, including Denisovans and Neanderthals. This is why many humans, including me, have Neanderthal DNA in our genome. I am going to talk about evolution in other blogs. Enough to say, that evolutionary theory is supported by overwhelming scientific evidence. So modern humans come from evolutionary processes and not that long ago there were multiple human species. So, what does that say about the idea that we are special? And in whose eyes are we special? Am I special?
About 109 billion humans have been alive since the dawn of man. I was born in 1942 along with 1,767,482 other humans in the US. So, by birthday on February 19th, about 242,000 babies had been born in the U.S. I figure that my twin brother Gordon and I were number 242, 0001 and 242, 002. The US population at that time was 135 million and there was about 2 billion people on the planet. Now there are over 7.5 billion. Only 62% of us born in the U.S. that year are still alive. And when I die, I will join 150,000 of my fellow humans who will die that day.
I was born an identical twin with older sister Gail of Lee and Frances Anderson whose ancestors were all Northern European, mostly Scottish and German. Last year I wrote my parents’ biography. It was a joy to work on it and to get the context for the lives they lived. If you would like to see it, here it is.
I was born in the midst of a World War II; the biggest most destructive war in the history of mankind. 60 million people died, 3% of the population. In the 20th Century, there were over 160 Million human beings killed through war, genocide and murder by other human beings. This is a staggering number, and a testimony to the complexity of the human condition. The good news is that the first 18 years of the 21st century has not had that kind of devastation, although humans now have the capability of obliterating the entire civilization of the planet with billions of people dying.
Here is a 1996 letter to my son Barry and my parents and the WWII generation.
While born during a war, war did not impact me significantly. I have led a blessed life with a higher standard of living than 99.9% of humans who have ever lived.
I have never been hungry. I have not been ravaged by disease. I have led a relatively economically stable life. I have never truly needed or wanted for anything that was significant. The important material things in life have always come my way. I have not been subjected to violence. And… I am not rich but certainly not poor. I have been treated well due to luck and circumstance. That’s it. Pretty amazing for 76 years.
The Buddhists say that the quality of your life has been influenced by the “karma” that you generated in your previous life. If so, my previous life generated an incredible amount of generous positive karma.
One’s life also is influenced by the station into to which one is born. Station in this context means societal rank and position, including economic status. I was born into a family of doctors. My father was a doctor as was his father. He had an established medical practice in Jackson Heights New York City. During his lifetime my father provided for us in New York City, during the war and after the war in California where we moved when I was 4 years old. We were not rich, although people thought we were. All doctors were thought to be wealthy.
So, I grew up in a family of smart educated people and was expected to go to college and continue at the station that I was born into and I have basically done that.
During my lifetime, some terrible things have happened in the world and there have also been wonderful things. Amidst wars and famine there has been an ever-evolving level of prosperity. While there are still many poor and many hungry, fewer people are starving in the world than ever before. Many of the major plagues and epidemics of the past are no more. Modern science has eliminated them. More on that in a later blog.
In addition to an overall increase in the well-being of people, there are fewer people who are oppressed in totalitarian societies and monarchies. And for me, born in the United States, a free and democratic country…well, another example of how I have been blessed.
I don’t know how much longer the human race will continue to exist, but I do know that our time is finite. And of course, so am I.
So, where do you fit into history and time? Do you have the same perspective as I do? Have you been more fortunate or less fortunate?